backpack: Badger Creek Wilderness
Located southeast of Mount Hood, Badger Creek Wilderness is in a transition zone on the east side of the Cascade crest with a forest of mixed conifers including Ponderosa pine, western red cedar, and western hemlock. This is a good early season backpacking destination due to the lower elevation and drier conditions.
- distance & elevation gain to campsite: 3.8 miles, 575 ft. gain
- day hike options: continue on Badger Creek Trail as snow levels allow in the spring
- best months: May – June
- location: Southeast of Mount Hood; nearest town: Dufur
- land management: Mount Hood National Forest: Badger Creek Wilderness
- trail conditions: Badger Creek Trail #479
- hike description: Oregon Hikers
- permits: none required
- trailhead pass: NW Forest Pass required
hike in: 3.8 miles, 575 ft. gain
The drive to the trailhead was on paved roads until the last half mile, which was narrow and steep with ruts and potholes but okay if you took it slow. We were the first car at the trailhead, with two more backpackers pulling up behind us right when we got there. My friend had been here before and had seen a rattlesnake near the trailhead, so I kept my eyes on the ground to make sure I didn’t step on one, but I never did see any snakes on this trip.
The trail follows the creek all the way to Badger Lake, although we weren’t planning to make it to the lake on this trip. There are campsites next to the creek, spaced about every mile or less. We hiked in 3.7 miles to a spot with two campsites. The first one is smaller and there’s some type of concrete and metal structure on the other side of the creek, so we continued to the second campsite. It’s right off the trail, but it was large and open and had great water access.
We set up camp and had lunch, then traipsed around the woods on the other side of the trail looking for a place to hang our food. It’s always a challenge to find branches low enough that are sturdy, but we both managed to find something that worked. I’ve been practicing the PCT food hang method. Instead of tying off the rope around a tree after hanging your food, you tie a stick to the rope to act as a stopper for your food bag.
day hike: 5.4 miles with 700 ft. gain
When I woke up in the morning, something had moved my trekking pole out of my tent vestibule. On closer inspection, I noticed that the hand grip had been chewed on, but not very much. One of my friends trekking poles didn’t fare so well though and hers were chewed up quite a bit. We think it was a chipmunk, and it chewed on all but one pair of our trekking poles. We all made sure to keep them in our tents the next night.
After breakfast, we did a day hike to where Pine Creek joins Badger Creek. Small wildflowers were in bloom all along the forest floor, and there was a mix of pines in the forest, and one section with short manzanita shrubs. Both are not typically seen on the west side of the Cascades, so it was nice to see something different. We went about 2.5 miles from our camp and back, for a total of about 5 miles. We kept running into a lot of blowdown on the trail and eventually tired of crawling up, around and under it, so we decided that was enough of a hike for the day.
Once dusk arrives, I usually jump up to take photos around camp. The lighting at this time of day is perfect for dramatic photos. I waited a bit longer than normal, but I like the way these photos capture the darkness with the light of the creek.
hike out: 3.7 miles with 575 ft. loss
The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and then packed up to hike out. Clouds moved in and it started sprinkling a little before we were all packed up, but the rain held off until we were hiking. Even then, it was a light rain and we didn’t bother stopping to put on rain gear. The trees shielded us from most of the rain, and it was a pleasant walk through the forest.
This was the least crowded backpacking trip I’ve been on, with only a few other backpackers and almost no day hikers. I hope to come back in the fall. This area is supposed to have western larches that turn yellow in October.
On the drive back, I made a wrong turn and we ended up driving on roads that were pretty sketchy. Narrow, winding, with ruts, huge potholes, and snow. It made me pretty nervous, but we finally made it back to highway 35. My friend had questioned the turn when I made it, and from now on, I’ll be sure to listen to her!